Roswell, Georgia is located on the northern banks of the Chattahoochee River in an area the Cherokee Indians once called Enchanted Land.
Originally, whites were forbidden on the land that was inhabited by the Cherokees, but that law was often ignored. Many difficulties would arise, and although a variety of treaties would be signed, many were broken.
The Cherokee became increasingly aware of the white-man’s powerful weapons and the great numbers of settlers flocking to the area. Moreover, they realized that they must learn to co-exist with the white man or their way of life would surely perish.
The Cherokee Indians were an extremely progressive tribe. They were the first Native Americans to use a written language and alphabet. One of their leaders, Sequoyah, born to a daughter of a Cherokee Chief and a Virginia fur trader, was an outstanding silversmith. Many of the white silversmiths of that era signed their works and it had been suggested to Sequoyah that he should do so. This desire to sign his works led him to realize that the Cherokee Nation could benefit greatly from a written language. By 1821, Sequoyah had created the Talking Leaves consisting of 85 letters. The Cherokee Nation adopted his alphabet and within a short time, thousands of Cherokee were able to read and write. As a result, the Cherokees created the first Native American newspaper, “The Cherokee Phoenix”. The offices were set up in the Cherokee capital of New Echota and the first issue was produced in 1828.
In an attempt to survive encroachment, the Cherokee adopted some of the white man’s ways and became shop owners, storekeepers, farmers, and even operated mills, ferries, and other businesses.
Before the mid 1800s, the Cherokee Nation had a centralized government complete with a constitution. The Cherokee capital at New Echota presented a problem for the State of Georgia because of an 1802 agreement with the government of the United States to remove the Cherokees within the state’s boundaries. This discomfort was further enhanced by the discovery of gold on Cherokee land. Georgia declared the Cherokee Nation illegal and took possession of their land, dividing it into counties and giving the land to white settlers through a land lottery.
Cherokee Indians continued to live in the area of Roswell and for a while there was a tolerance of each other. James Dorris and his Indian wife, Nancy Cook, operated a trading post that traded with both whites and Native Americans. Lebanon Baptist Church Mission Society served the Indian missions. Sharlot Vickery, a Cherokee married to a white settler, was part-owner of two farms and a ferry on the Chattahoochee.
The Cherokees pursued action to protect their rights through the courts, but President Andrew Jackson ignored a mandate by the Supreme Court and approved removal of the Cherokee. In 1838, the Cherokee’s traveled west on a path that was to become known as The Trail of Tears.
William Proctor was a white- man (so it is thought) married to an Indian girl. They lived between Foe Killer & Vickery Creek, near the present-day location of LickSkillet Farm Restaurant. Their son Ezekial, often called Zeke, was 7 years of age when the family was forcefully removed from the area. Zeke did not live peacefully in Oklahoma. Instead, he and his followers were known to have a personal vendetta against the white-man. In 1873 however, President Grant gave them amnesty for their actions and Zeke later served as a U.S. Deputy Marshall.
ROSWELL BECOMES A TOWN
In 1828, gold was found in north Georgia, thus causing a swarm of settlers to the area, especially Dahlonega and Auraria. It was this activity that prompted Roswell King of Darien, Georgia to investigate the sites. Traveling on horseback, Mr. King followed Indian trails to the Chattahoochee River near what is now Roswell.
Following the river, Mr. King discovered vast forests and the rushing waters of Vickery (Vickery’s) Creek. These natural resources inspired him to envision a mill, powered by the water, and a community close by.
In 1838, he began work on the first cotton mill and in 1839 it was incorporated as The Roswell Manufacturing Company. The company was extremely successful and expanded. Even a flouring mill was constructed. Orders for cloth, tenting, rope, flannels, and yarn poured in.
Mr. King offered homesites and investment opportunities to his friends and associates from coastal Georgia and a community was built. They constructed magnificent homes for themselves, cottages and apartments for mill workers, a general store near the mill, a church, and an academy to attend to the educational needs of the children.
Before Roswell King’s wife, Catherine, could move from Darien, she died, never seeing the town that would be named for her husband. Roswell King died in 1844. Their son, Barrington King, and his wife, Catherine Nephew King, worked to carry on his father’s dream.
There were several distinct styles of life in Roswell …. the prominent families, the mill workers who often labored 11-hour days, and the slaves. The issues of slavery and states rights would have a major impact on the town of Roswell. Secession of Georgia from the Union took place in January of 1861. By 1861, Roswell families, who could afford to do so, gathered as many personal possessions as possible, and began to refugee to safer areas. The Union cavalry, under the command of Brigadier General Kenner Garrard, arrived in Roswell on July 5, 1864. Retreating Confederate soldiers burned the covered bridge at the Chattahoochee River in order to slow the Union’s advancement. However, there was a river crossing called Shallowford (located on today’s Azalea Drive at the River Park). At Shallowford, in those early years, the river was only about waist deep. It was here that Union troops crossed the river.
The fighting that took place involved the Spencer repeating rifle. This was the first time in U.S. History a rifle was used successfully under water during armed conflict. Theophile Roche, a French citizen, had been employed by the cotton mills and later the woolen mill. In an attempt to save the mills, he flew a French flag in hopes of claiming neutrality. However, the letters CSA (Confederate States of America) were found on cloth being produced. For two days the mill was spared, but on July 7, after it was proven that the neutrality claim was false, General Sherman ordered everyone connected with the mill to be charged with treason. The nearby cotton mill was also destroyed. Mill workers, most women and children since the men were fighting the war, were arrested, charged with treason and sent north to uncertain fates. One of the women involved in this tragedy was pregnant and working as a seamstress at the mill. She was sent north to Chicago, and left to fend for herself. It would take five years before she and her daughter would return, on foot, to Roswell, only to find that her husband had remarried because he thought she was dead.
Although the mills were destroyed, the magnificent homes and church were not. After the War, families returned to Roswell and began to pick up the pieces of their lives. The mills were rebuilt and the textile industry once again became a strong part of Roswell’s economy, until 1975.
Resources: Michael Hitt, Historian and author of Charged With TreasonRoswell Mills Camp 1547 – Roswell Historical Society, IncPhotos taken from Roswell: A Pictorial History – Roswell Historical Society, Inc.